‘Treasure Island’ adapted as comic melodrama
In the pre-Independence era before Jamaican and Caribbean authors started pushing foreign ones off school curricula, adventure stories from the UK were about as popular as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novels of America. The books of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson most frequently borrowed by youngsters like this writer were: Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Treasure Island, all of which have been dramatised for film.
On Sunday, the Palace Amusement Company screened the latest adaptation of Treasure Island in cinemas in Kingston and Montego Bay. The reworking was done by playwright Bryony Lavery for London's Royal National Theatre and it came to Jamaica as one of the National Theatre Live videoed stage plays that Palace Amusement has been showing every month or two for the past year.
Lots of children were in the audience at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre, on Sunday and they seemed to enjoy the adventure novel, redone as a comic melodrama, even though it contains some really grisly scenes. For example, the director, Polly Findlay, shows blood oozing from the neck of a dying woman and a man's guts spilling from his body after he is shot dead.
There are other murders, admittedly less gory, and other dark aspects. The narrator/protagonist of the story, Jemima 'Jim' Hawkins (energetically played by Patsy Ferran), is frequently in fear for her life and she experiences betrayal from a man she thought was her friend.
Additionally, in a film which moves from one gloomy setting to another, she sees fighting, murder and mutiny. The dark tone and look of Treasure Island is closer to that of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films (which probably have toughened up our children), and quite unlike that of another popular children's quest movie, the bright, bubbly, colourful Finding Nemo.
Nemo is found by the end of the story. The treasure that the characters of Treasure Island are looking for is not found in the expected portable form - as precious stones and gold and silver - and the survivors of the expedition return to England empty-handed - except they do carry back the half-crazed Englishman, Ben Gunn, who had been marooned on the island for three years.
In the deliberately larger-than-life way the director wanted, the acting is excellent. No less has been given by the National Theatre thespians in the plays - many by Shakespeare - brought by Palace Amusement to date.
There is some beautiful singing of sea shanties, and there are many moments of humour - the result of the work, no doubt, of the supervisor of music, music director and
comedy consultant, who were part of the creative team.
Also doing very good work were the designers responsible for the major visual aspects of the play, the set, the make-up, the costumes (including wigs and hair) and the illusions by illusionist Chris Fisher. Their combined work takes us, the audience, on an adventure to a world very different from our own. It's cheaper than a plane ticket.
Our adventure, and Jim's, begins at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the English coast in the mid 1700s. The visit of various seamen to the inn, one with a chest containing a treasure map, leads to 22 men and women and a parrot getting on to a sailing ship and heading for a distant island where a great treasure is supposed to be hidden. The disturbances and disasters mentioned earlier take place before the much depleted company returns to the place it started out from.
There's no harm in revealing the ending of the play, for in a chat with The Gleaner Palace Amusement's Managing Director Douglas Graham explained that National Theatre Live plays cannot be reshown in Jamaica. Happily, that is not the case with the other special types of shows that his company brings to audiences here - operas from New York's Metropolitan Opera Company and Russia's Bolshoi ballets.
Rating the popularity of the three offerings, Graham said that the most popular are the Bolshoi ballets. Next come the National Theatre Live plays, then, third, the operas. Still, he said, the better-known operas have attracted good audiences and he was expecting that the popular Madame Butterfly, which is to be screened soon, will pull in better-than-average numbers.
Also coming shortly are the following National Theatre Live productions by renowned playwrights: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by David Hare (April 12), The Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard (May 10), and Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw (June 7).